Art Asbury's Own Story on Driving . . .

At a Speed Over Water of 184 mph [1957]

Art Asbury
Art Asbury

We have been ready since 6:45 a.m. I have been talking to anyone and everyone, to keep the "butterflies" in my tummy under control. Believe me, they are there! I would be concerned if they were not. We are waiting on the best water conditions — not too smooth but with the right ripple.

At 8.20 a.m. I am suddenly aware that the morning breeze is increasing and immediately yell: "Let's go!"

After hurried well-wishes and pats on my helmet from my crew, Miss Supertest and I are taken in tow by the patrol boat Captain Morgan and for the next 20 minutes as we move slowly north, I pace the deck of this noble craft. My thoughts are on this racing boat that has suffered nothing but hard luck and disappointment. Yet I feel confident that to-day she is going to redeem herself.

I think of other smaller boats I have driven in the past. Some to victory, some to miserable defeat. I think of my courtship this past summer with Miss Supertest and of her resentment of me in our first heat of competition together when she tossed me overboard at 105 mph. I recall another time how she responded when we struck large swells from a cruiser when we were travelling at better than 140 mph; swells larger than those that have disintegrated other boats at lesser speeds. But not this doll, she didn't even loosen a screw. And now, I am going to push her faster and harder than I have ever done before. I do not think of what dangers may lie ahead — I feel I can trust this hurrying lady — and the water conditions are my only worry. At 180 mph smooth or rough water all looks the same.

Nearing Deseronto I notice the breeze has lightened and the water is dead calm. They have towed me far enough! I toss them the line, they wish me luck as they move away to the west side of the course to take up their position as patrol boat.

Settled in the seat, I pull down my goggles and start the engine. Black smoke belches from the exhaust stacks, a deep throated roar and Miss Supertest and I are off! I suddenly feel wonderful. Left behind in that cloud of black smoke are the "butterflies" from my tummy and that cotton-like lump in my throat. I love music in many forms but no music could be sweeter to my ears than the sound I now hear coming from this mighty Rolls-Royce Griffon.

I wheel to the south and line up in the direction of the first marker buoy. It is difficult to spot as there is still considerable haze. Because of the smooth water, the boat is reluctant to get up and plane. I crank on the steering wheel and veer sharply to port, this lifts the starboard sponson and the speed increases slightly. I wheel her to starboard to lift the port sponson it lifts but the other drops and I have to repeat the procedure. This time our speed has increased sufficiently and Miss Supertest sluggishly lifts up on her planes. I have used up about ¾ of a mile of my run and my speed is still well below 100 mph. I do not know what the speed is except from the feel of the boat as the speedometer does not start registering until we reach 100 or better.

I am somewhat annoyed at using up this precious part of the run at low speed and start pouring the fuel to her.

Ahead in the distance I see the black channel marker which is about ¾ of a mile from the start of the measured kilometer. I check all instruments and everything is o.k. Engine rpm is 2,000. I push to 2,100 and shift to high-blower. Suddenly all hell breaks loose as the supercharger packs more air and fuel into the Griffon. The exhaust takes on a high staccato sound, speedometer starts reading 105 then 110, the engine revs increase to 2300, speed to 120, to 125, then 130. I'm still in smooth water, just ahead is the black channel marker. Speed is 140, my right foot on the accelerator pushes down harder. Revs are now 2,400, speed approaching 150. Must keep engine revs just ahead of boat speed. I want to be doing at least 165 at the black marker. Can I do it? I push harder on the accelerator, engine rpm climbs too fast, and the stern of the boat swerves to the right-too much — throttle for this smooth water, so must accelerate gradually. These boats on smooth water act much like a car on glare ice when too much power is applied.

I have to apply rudder to check the swerve of the boat, this cuts my speed slightly. I curse the smooth water and try to feed the power more easily.

We flash past the black marker, speed just under 160. I'm almost frantic-space is running out between us and the timers-this is too slow! But suddenly everything seems better. We have reached some rippled water. I push hard on the accelerator, the boat responds well. Being anxious I push harder. Too much — we swerve slightly, not bad though. We are past the pits, speed at 170. Still too slow. I see the kilometer markers ahead. Not much time left. I push the accelerator all the way, we gain speed fast. I watch for signals from patrol boats and hope the timers have been alerted-this may be a good run.

Speedometer Reads 193 mph!

We pass Miss Supertest's tender, speed 180, revs 3100. Here comes the start of the kilometer! Speed 183, still accelerating, this is what I had hoped for. Now hold everything as is, I tell myself. The markers at the other end are coming up fast. I glance at the speed-190, and revs at 3100. The markers flash past and again, I glance at the speed, it reads 193, the revs have not changed. I have become aware of my coveralls billowing up, the legs look like balloons. I also feel extremely light. The slipstream of air over the hull is making me almost weightless. I start slowing gradually but do not want to get down below 160 in this part of the course as I might leave a wake that could effect my return run.

I see a patrol boat ahead and I am losing speed as we approach. As we pass the boat I decide to wave only to have my right arm snapped smartly up and behind me, caught in the slipstream it took some effort to pull it back down again into the cockpit. Being surprised at this, I glance at the speedometer expecting to see a reading of 110 or 115. It reads 150 mph. Being well south of the course now, I reduce speed more quickly and begin my turn around for my run north.

As my speed drops to 120 I am able to assess the water conditions here, it is quite rough. This is strange to me, as only a few seconds ago and 8 miles to the north I was having great difficulty picking up speed on calm water. I also notice that the carburetor air-scoop has been ripped and bent upwards from the force of air.

We move to pick up our wake made on the run south. This is easy to do as the roostertail has left a trail of white foam. Lining up with patrol boat and the marker buoys beyond leading to the kilometer I begin to accelerate for my run north. Because of the rough water Miss Supertest picks up speed very quickly but because we are heading into the wind and the heavy chop, she is getting a little too much air under her and has a very light feeling. Accelerating hard adds to this lightness and the propeller breaks loose from the water occasionally. This does not help. She is always controllable but I immediately realize that this run is not going to be as fast as the one south. I am pleased however, to see my speed at 181 as we enter the kilometer trap. Accelerating all the way, we pass the marker at the north end of the trap with a speed showing just under 190. Losing speed gradually we continue on towards Deseronto.

From the tender comes the "all clear" signal and I start my second run south. Having used considerable fuel in the first two runs, I am aware that the hull will be considerably lighter now and should get up speed more quickly, it should also contribute to a higher top speed. I decide on 'an all out effort to reach a speed of at least 190 on entering the trap-faster if possible.

Miss Supertest is lighter, she planes easily and picks up speed rapidly. We zoom past the black channel marker, speed 174. On rippled water again we are accelerating hard. She's wide open now, speed 180, three quarters of a mile to go. I feel terrific. We are really going to crank one on this time!

It Sounded Like a Bomb Exploding

Things couldn't be better. Speed like this is like a narcotic but my exalted feeling is short-lived. Just as we are slightly north of the pits there is a sharp, loud report (to observers in patrol boats and on shore it sounded like a bomb exploding). A black puff of smoke erupts from the carburetor air scoop taking part of the scoop with it, narrowly missing my head, followed by a white stream of smoke. The cockpit fills with smoke and fumes. The engine cuts instantly with the explosion and, because of the loss of torque, Miss Supertest swerves violently to starboard; not much off course but even a slight swerve at 180 mph is violent. I steer frantically to bring her under control, the engine catches again, through some miracle, and we are again heading straight for the kilometer. Our speed now is 150. The accelerator is still wide open, (this has all happened so quickly I have never had time to take my foot off because of bracing my legs).

I realize we have lost our advantage and all hope of a speed of 190 on entering the trap, however, I am good and mad now and determined to finish the run. We enter the trap at slightly better than 175 and leave it at 185.

My return run north, the last run, was even slower, it was obvious the explosion had caused some damage. The engine was sick.

But we had done it!

The owners of Miss Supertest, her crew and above all, Miss Supertest herself deserve all the credit for this accomplishment. As for me — I shall always be grateful to them and to her for the "ride".

(Reprinted from Canadian Boating, October-November 1957)